Retiring Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh weighed in on the debate in Congress over the need to update the country’s nuclear force on Thursday when he said eliminating ground-based interconinential ballistic missiles would gain nothing.
Of course, Welsh said, the U.S. military would follow suit if lawmakers decide to change policy regarding the nuclear triad, but the current system of land, sea and air delivery has proven itself, he said.
“I’m a believer in the triad,” Welsh said, with the ability to from fixed-base ICBM silos, from submarines at sea or by aircraft — the latter which can be recalled if necessary.
Some officials argue the system needs upgrade. For example, separate on Thursday, House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation that would fund a nuclear cruise missile called the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO), which is slated to replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) around 2030.
Meanwhile, others have proposed eliminating the iconic Cold War technology of missiles and silos altogether by placing projectiles on rail and moved, thereby making them harder to target and hit.
A 2014 RAND report on the future ICBM force concluded a mobile system would be too expensive and necessitate an enemy targeting a much broader area to improve the chances of striking the weaponry.
Welsh, who is wrapping up a 40-year career when he retires July 1, said a mobile system was being discussed when he first came into the Air Force.
“I believe that the benefits you get from having a very survivable capability like the sub-launched ballistic missile, a very flexible option like a bomber, and a very responsive option — and relatively cheap option compared to the others — like the ICBM” make it a significant deterrent, Welsh said.
“It’s been successful over a long period of time and I think you first do no harm before you change it,” he said.